How to tame addiction to subscriptions that can be a hidden drain on finances

TORONTO — When it comes to spending, it’s often easy to overlook the small, routine expenses because they happen without requiring much thought.

“We often say that people can nickel and dime themselves to death,” says Laurie Campbell, CEO of Credit Canada.

“Because it’s those small expenses that eat away at your budget.”

Although there have always been many opportunities to spend a few dollars here and there without much thought, Campbell says “this is becoming much more challenging in our digital age.”

As a result, she and other experts say it’s critical to track your actual spending.

“It’s usually a shock for people to find out what portions of their money is going to certain areas that they never knew about,” says Gary Rabbior, president of the Canadian Foundation for Economic Education.

The technology, media and entertainment industries, for instance, have been offering a wider variety of paid subscriptions for everything from music, to news, to television.

In fact, Canada is getting more choice in video-on-demand subscriptions as Netflix gets more competition from Amazon, Disney and Apple — not to mention domestic over-the-top services such as Bell’s Crave TV.

And technology itself, be it anti-virus software, office applications or ink cartridges, is often available as a subscription.

Although these are products of a digital age, the subscription business model has been around for a long time.

It is an effective way to spread the cost of a good or service over time, through a series of scheduled payments that may seem easier to swallow than one big expense.

“When we’re looking at a spending plan, we have to look at our rent or our mortgage, our debts, the utilities we pay (and) the food we eat before subscriptions,” Campbell says.

“If you’re in a deficit or in a hole before those subscriptions, you can’t afford them.”

Both Rabbior and Campbell say there’s value in looking at what’s being spent each week, or at least on a monthly basis.

“You can be reminded of expenses you have previously approved and decide if you still want to incur those,” Rabbior says.

“You can see if any of your previously agreed-to charges have increased — as they may have sent you a notice of the changes, maybe in fine print, and you may not be aware of the increased monthly charge.”

Tips for managing subscriptions include:

— Watch for unnecessary duplications. Two members in the same household may be able to share a subscription.

— Compare offerings. Music, video or publication subscriptions from different sources may have significant overlap.

— Calculate what a monthly or weekly subscription costs for a full year, including taxes and price increases.

— Make sure that the vendor is delivering what you thought was promised.

Campbell says people must learn to take advantage of what’s available in this digital age to ensure they are meeting their own needs.

“Getting a subscription online may be really important to you … because you’re going to (use) it every day and take advantage of it and it’s something enjoyable for you,” Campbell says.

“I think it’s about balance. And the problem is that a lot of people don’t have that balance.”

David Paddon, The Canadian Press

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